ABROAD IN ENGLAND by Frank Entwisle


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I set out to entertain myself in the country I love best of all. Should anyone discern a reflection of the contemporary English mood, I hereby declare it was accidental."" So begins Northern-England television journalist Entwisle, who set off on ""just a ramble"" in a sleep-in van--inspired by H. V. Morton's 1926 In Search of England. The starting-spot, arriving from France, is traveler-logged Dover, where the natives are understandably cool: ""You don't pause in a stampede to stroke a buffalo. The wonder of Dover is that it stays so calm and that no one shoots the cattle."" Then it's on, via many a pub, to Canterbury--for an Elgar concert, a countryside barbecue, and musings on the great church. (""How did fornicating, boozing, sweating men come to summon the towering imagination, the confidence, the courage, the effrontery, even to begin to raise a place like this?"") Next, after pleasant wanderings in Kent (with literary associations), Entwisle turns north to Essex, avoiding London: suburban ""south Essex is a pox that is still spreading. . . But south Essex is not Essex""--because north Essex offers bewitching little Thaxted, home of Gustav Hoist, a shuttlecock factory, and radical history. (""Then the Cambridge rioters swarmed up Town Street to the handsome old vicarage where parishioners were taking refuge--just as H. G. Wells arrived in a Rolls-Royce.') And so on, north--through Cambridge, St. Ives (""People who could allow their railway station to fester thus could not be of much account""), Peterborough (""a horizon of uninteresting buildings beyond a belt of seedy car parks""), glorious Stamford, and tiny Oakham (coffee and biscuits with the chief Baha-i of Britain). There's an overnight stay on a Norfolk farm, a visit to a disused WW II airfield, a rather fulsome paean to York (""England's finest city""), consideration of the Yorkshireman stereotype, a guide to Geordie mores and dialect, a stay in a humorless youth hostel--and, after much rambling along and over the Scottish border, a turn south to the Lake District (spoiled by tourism), Liverpool (""in a clapped-out Drug Squad car we bump across cobbles in a wilderness of houseless streets""), and. . . eventually. . . Cornwall. Throughout, Entwisle drifts agreeably from local food and local bookstores (a high priority) to regional history and literature--from childhood-memories to run-ins with old chums to eccentric strangers along the way. And his style fluctuates, too, from gentle irony to lyrical flights (less successful) to straight reportage. Unpretentious, varied, with nothing belabored and nothing too personal: a grand bedside book for Anglophiles--even with the maddening, outrageous absence of any maps whatsoever.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1983
Publisher: Norton